Winter Olympic Games (WOG) next year in Beijing will be carried out between 4 -20 February. In the name of the Sinological Society Yuan, I accepted the invitation of the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (北京人民对外国友好协会) and attended the four-day venue sightseeing event known as “Feel the Charm of Snow and Ice Sports in the World of Winter Olympics: Tour of Winter Olympics Sites by Youth from European Countries in China” (冰雪京张 世界东奥：欧洲国家在华青年东奥行), organized by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (中国人民对外友好协会).
In the not too distant year of 2008, infamously known for the perils of the ravaging global financial crisis, the Summer Olympics were held in Beijing. The Olympics then were without a doubt something special, most certainly for (ex-)students of Sinology, among whom many could for the first time talk seriously with their friends and family about their “career choices”. Even then, the rumours of the inevitable global rise of China were present, further fuelled by the extremely successful carrying out of the Olympic Games. If back then those rumours seemed like a passing fancy to some, the current reality, during the still pressing Covid-19 pandemic, the one-year postponement of Olympic Games in Tokyo, and approximately half a year before the beginning of the Winter Olympic Games – seems to be unavoidable: China is not only a global economic superpower but, by their unparalleled success in the Olympic sports, also a sporting one.
The organisation of the Winter Olympics was quite a complicated task for the organizing committee, as China – with its geographic and climate location- isn’t particularly known for winter sports. With the exception of a few regions in the north of the country (including the location of China’s capital Beijing), most of the country’s lowlands don’t often get snow. The three competition sites, where the Games will be carried out (Beijing 北京, Yanqing 延庆 and Zhangjiakou 张家口; more about them later), aren’t particularly known for being particularly snowy either – more so only as quite cold, and by European standards, overly moist. Despite the lack of some natural endowments, the organisers decided to base their visions of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on the four ideas of ecological sustainability, cleanliness, openness and inclusivity.
From 1978 on, when the Chinese economic development began to take off in the era of Reform and opening up under Deng Xiaoping (邓小平), China was not exactly perceived by the rest of the world as the most ecological and clean, but rather admired for, by Western standards, the enormous economic growth. As such, during the Olympic Games in 2008, the effects of air pollution on the competitors were one of the primary concerns. The Chinese government – aside from dealing with the economy – started to do some serious work in the field of ecology. From 2015 onward, the number of PM2.5 microparticles in the air dropped by 53% in Beijing, and 32% in Zhangjiakou every year. The reason lies in afforestation, especially in the areas of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, where 44 hectares of new trees will be planted before the beginning of the Games. As China was and remains an industrial super force, with their power plants mostly running on coal, the leaders decided to relinquish heavy industry in the urban areas and to restructure several industries responsible for most of the pollution.
A good example of heavy industry revitalisation is the Shougang (首钢, lit. »capital steel«) complex on the western outskirts of Beijing. The Shougang Company was founded in 1919 and is one of the ten biggest steel industries in the entire country, as well as one of the biggest contributors to the economic development of China even today. After the complete relocation of the industrial part of the steel company to the nearby Hebei province (河北省) in 2008, the Olympic organizing committee used approximately 10% of the abandoned northern part of the complex, originally used for storage and transportation of essential materials for iron production, to build the Winter Olympics Centre, including offices, a conference and exhibition centre, as well as the sports infrastructure of the Shougang Winter Park.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, speaks highly of Shougang Park, mainly because the relocation of the organizing centre of Beijing WOG 2022 to Shougang led to a revitalisation of the abandoned industrial relics and serves as an inspirational example for building landmarks on the industrial legacy. This means that the architectural plans were also made based on the principle of using the already existing infrastructure and materials, with the focus on the low carbon footprint of the newly erected or re-vamped buildings, and including the hi-tech security systems, smart lighting, photovoltaic energy, and collection and reuse of rainwater. Before the start of the Olympics, approximately 40.000 square metres of the available 75.000 square meter grounds will be usable for the purpose of sports’ organisation and sporting events, in facilities such as Shougang Big Air and the National Winter Sports Training Centre which are both also a part of the park.
Based on ecological sustainability, the organisers decided to use the already existing Beijing infrastructure from the Summer Olympics, among them the famous national stadium “Bird’s Nest” (鸟巢) and national swimming centre »Water Cube« (水立方) also known as »Ice Cube« (冰立方), as well as some newer complexes for winter sports built in the city (here it is worth mentioning the new speed skating stadium).
While the WOG in the urban Beijing area (北京赛区) will undoubtedly be a special experience for everyone, one should not neglect the entirely newly built complex about an hour’s high-speed-train ride away from Beijing. The Yanqing competition zone (延庆赛区), located in the Hebei province on the Xiaohaituo (小海陀), the southern foot of the Songshan (松山) mountain, measures 16 square kilometres and holds a centre for alpine skiing, bobsleigh track, and an Olympic village. The complex will host most of the sports events and is also an architectural wonder on its own – it is an infrastructural project with the shortest time of building and the highest building difficulty, with high building standards. Yanqing site was developed upon a concept of »Mountain-forest sites at ecological Winter Olympic Games« (山林场馆，生态东奥) in an attempt to be as non-invasive as possible to the natural habitats at the foot of the Shongshan mountain. We can only hope, however, that the relative closeness of Beijing and the newly built road traffic connections will make it possible for this area to continue developing (in regards to winter sports) even after the Olympics end.
The third competition site in Zhangjiakou is half an hour on the fast road away northwest of Yanqing, more specifically in Chongli (崇礼), standing at approximately 1200 meters above the sea level. The climate is a bit colder as well, and the air is remarkably clean. There we can find the Olympic village and Genting snow park, with the national centre for cross-country skiing and biathlon, as well as the impressive national centre for snow jumping with two ski flying hills and a panoramic lookout tower. It is in this area where the winter resort Thaiwoo (太舞冰雪场) was recently built, for the purposes of Olympic Game attendees and other guests who will want to make use of the nearby recreational facilities during their winter holidays.
Before concluding, I should also expand upon the ideas of the Beijing Winter Olympics organizing committee, namely openness and inclusivity. The organisers are trying hard to not only appeal to the international audiences (Shougang has several artefacts that are already attracting members of the International Olympics Committee and other international organisations to the winter-sports-action-deprived Beijing), but to the local and country-wide population as well. By including the general public in the organisation of the Olympics, they want to contribute to a more productive society, as well as one that will be more open to the world, and remain such for the future generations, while still maintaining the specifics of Chinese modernisation.
The base message of the Olympics is inspiring the youths with the Olympic spirit, and encouraging millions of people to accept winter sports and promotion of societal advancement through the Olympic Games, as well as creating a harmonic world based on mutual understanding. With the united vision of “The purity of ice and snow that connects with a fiery passion” (纯洁的冰雪，激情的约会), and on the basis of the above mentioned ideological visions, we can be sure that the coming Winter Olympics in Beijing will be breaking some of the milestones as well as uniting the “winter” world in the (post-)pandemic times. The total number of hosted events will be 109, with the same amount of gold medals in fifteen different disciplines, under the umbrella of the seven branches of competitive winter sports – skiing, ice-skating, ice hockey, curling, bobsleigh, sledging and biathlon. At the same time, inclusivity also applies to disabled people, who will gather at Winter Paralympics between 4-13 March 2022, right after the regular WOG end. Paralympics will have 78 events and the same amount of gold medals in the categories of para-biathlon, para-ice hockey, wheelchair curling, para-alpine skiing, para-cross-country skiing and para-snowboarding.
The event took place between 26-30 July 2021 and was attended by representatives of 17 European countries living in one of the eight different provinces all over the People’s Republic of China. I would kindly like to thank the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and their distinguished members Deputy Secretary General of the Association and Chief of the Department of Europe and Africa Affairs Zhao Jinyan 赵金艳 and Deputy Chief the Department of Europe and Africa Affairs Hong Jie 洪捷, for giving me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would also like to kindly acknowledge and extend my warmest regards to other members of our Beijing delegation: Ukrainian journalist Olena Gorškova, French journalist Julien Buffet, and Swiss professor of Mathematics at the Beijing University Emanuel Scheidegger, with whom I have spent these four immensely interesting and productive days. I am sure that the organisers will enable us to meet again on the competition scenes of the Winter Olympics 2022, despite the pandemic. At the same time, I would like to invite all those interested in both the Olympics and China to visit us on our website (contact) and social media, where we will gladly answer any questions you might have.
See you in Beijing!
Author: Matej Zima
Translation: Ana Knific